1 Samuel 23:16-17
And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”
David is in a tight spot in this story. When Israel asked Samuel for a king “such as the nations have,” God gave them what they wanted— Saul, whose name in Hebrew (coming from the verb “to ask”) stylistically means “you asked for it.” And they had. Saul had proven himself to be a king “such as the nations have”: in his faithlessness, God rejected him as king and raised up his own king, one not like the nations but rather a man after his own heart, David. Saul, however, living in fallen flesh, allowed his jealousy and lust for power to overwhelm his good sense, and he sought to kill David before the latter could take the throne. On the run, David became surrounded by Saul’s army, and the Lord told him that Saul had every intention of taking him out. David, naturally, was frightened by this news and fled. God in his faithfulness, however, did not allow David to remain in fear; rather, he sent to comfort him— of all people— Saul’s own son and heir apparent.
Jonathan, unlike his father, can see the writing on the wall: David, not Saul, will be king. For Jonathan to recognize this is a great credit to his faith, for in so doing, he is relinquishing his own claim to the throne as his father’s heir, a point the narrative makes explicit: “And I will be second to you.” Jonathan’s faith in the Lord’s good purpose is so steadfast indeed, that he risks going out to David’s camp to grant him a share of it, to “help him find strength in God.” Subsequently, with his faith renewed, David himself demonstrates faith in the Lord’s good purpose by failing to take worldly advantage of Saul’s carelessness; he eschews an opportunity to kill him. David knows that God alone, not his own hands, will make him king. He knows this, we may suspect, because Jonathan “helped” him see it.
We are all prone to doubt the good promises of God. It is not at all hard to see why we would. The world in which we live is a tragic landfill of human powerlust and broken trust. We are surrounded by hostile nations, and we are tempted to act, “such as” they do, to take our own before we are taken, rather than trust in the gracious if sometimes obscured gifts of our Father in heaven. Though we live in the hope of Easter, we nevertheless still feel as though we are stuck in a Good Friday world, with only death and hopelessness to greet us, and we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. This reaction is only natural, and we can be thankful that our Lord is gracious to and patient with us.
It is precisely in these moments of despair that we are called to be “strong in God.” And what is this, but to remind ourselves as Jonathan reminds David that God’s promises will not, and indeed cannot, fail. Even when we are surrounded by the armies of our enemies, however they may manifest themselves in our lives today, we know that God is faithful to his word, and that he works for the good in all things for those who love him and have been called according to his purpose. It is indeed according to his good purpose that we know he acts in our lives. In times of trial, it is our best bet to remind ourselves of the surety of God’s promise, and more importantly, in the goodness of that promise’s Guarantor, and to find our strength in him. We have no better recourse.
Indeed, God so cares for us that he doesn’t even leave it to us to find strength ourselves, but will send someone to help us. And that indeed is the model for us. We find our strength in God not so that we can keep it for ourselves. Rather, like Jonathan, we are called to go to others in their time of trial and help them find that strength in God that a dedicated reminder of his good purpose can instill.
Ultimately, Jonathan is not our principle exemplar in this. God himself comes in the flesh of Jesus to help us find our strength in him. It is precisely in remembrance of him and his demonstration of God’s good purposes for us that we find it. In him alone, we know where the hopelessness of Good Friday must inevitably end. Let is never fail to remember in whom our “strength in God” is to be found. So reminded, let us further never tire of helping each other find it when we seem overcome, until the glorious day when he visits us. The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it.